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Getting a Divorce? Be Aware of Tax Implications If You Own a Business

If you’re a business owner and you’re getting a divorce, tax issues can complicate matters. Your business ownership interest is one of your biggest personal assets and in many cases, your marital property will include all or part of it.

Tax-free property transfers

You can generally divide most assets, including cash and business ownership interests, between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse without any federal income or gift tax consequences. When an asset falls under this tax-free transfer rule, the spouse who receives the asset takes over its existing tax basis (for tax gain or loss purposes) and its existing holding period (for short-term or long-term holding period purposes).

Let’s say that under the terms of your divorce agreement, you give your house to your spouse in exchange for keeping 100% of the stock in your business. That asset swap would be tax-free. And the existing basis and holding periods for the home and the stock would carry over to the person who receives them.

Tax-free transfers can occur before a divorce or at the time it becomes final. Tax-free treatment also applies to post-divorce transfers as long as they’re made “incident to divorce.” This means transfers that occur within:

  1. A year after the date the marriage ends, or
  2. Six years after the date the marriage ends if the transfers are made pursuant to your divorce agreement.

More tax issues

Later on, there will be tax implications for assets received tax-free in a divorce settlement. The ex-spouse who winds up owning an appreciated asset — when the fair market value exceeds the tax basis — generally must recognize taxable gain when it’s sold (unless an exception applies).

What if your ex-spouse receives 49% of your highly appreciated small business stock? Thanks to the tax-free transfer rule, there’s no tax impact when the shares are transferred. Your ex will continue to apply the same tax rules as if you had continued to own the shares, including carryover basis and carryover holding period. When your ex-spouse ultimately sells the shares, he or she will owe any capital gains taxes. You will owe nothing.

Note that the person who winds up owning appreciated assets must pay the built-in tax liability that comes with them. From a net-of-tax perspective, appreciated assets are worth less than an equal amount of cash or other assets that haven’t appreciated. That’s why you should always take taxes into account when negotiating your divorce agreement.

In addition, the beneficial tax-free transfer rule is now extended to ordinary-income assets, not just to capital-gains assets. For example, if you transfer business receivables or inventory to your ex-spouse in a divorce, these types of ordinary-income assets can also be transferred tax-free. When the asset is later sold, converted to cash or exercised (in the case of nonqualified stock options), the person who owns the asset at that time must recognize the income and pay the tax liability.

Plan ahead to avoid surprises

Like many major life events, divorce can have major tax implications. For example, you may receive an unexpected tax bill if you don’t carefully handle the splitting up of qualified retirement plan accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) and IRAs. And if you own a business, the stakes are higher. We can help you minimize the adverse tax consequences of settling your divorce.

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Scholarships Are Usually Tax Free But They May Result In Taxable Income

If your child is fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship, you may wonder about the tax implications. Fortunately, scholarships (and fellowships) are generally tax free for students at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as those attending college, graduate school or accredited vocational schools. It doesn’t matter if the scholarship makes a direct payment to the individual or reduces tuition.

Requirements for tax-free treatment

However, scholarships are not always tax free. Certain conditions must be satisfied. A scholarship is tax free only to the extent it’s used to pay for:

  • Tuition and fees required to attend the school and
  • Fees, books, supplies and equipment required of all students in a particular course.

For example, expenses that don’t qualify include the cost of room and board, travel, research and clerical help.

To the extent a scholarship award isn’t used for qualifying items, it’s taxable. The recipient is responsible for establishing how much of an award is used to pay for tuition and eligible expenses. Maintain records (such as copies of bills, receipts and cancelled checks) that reflect the use of the scholarship money.

Payment for services doesn’t qualify

Subject to limited exceptions, a scholarship isn’t tax free if the payments are linked to services that your child performs as a condition for receiving the award, even if the services are required of all degree candidates. Therefore, a stipend your child receives for required teaching, research or other services is taxable, even if the child uses the money for tuition or related expenses.

What if you, or a family member, are an employee of an education institution that provides reduced or free tuition? A reduction in tuition provided to you, your spouse or your dependents by the school at which you work isn’t included in your income and isn’t subject to tax.

What is reported on a tax return?

If a scholarship is tax free and your child has no other income, the award doesn’t have to be reported on a tax return. However, any portion of an award that’s taxable as payment for services is treated as wages. Estimated tax payments may have to be made if the payor doesn’t withhold enough tax. Your child should receive a Form W-2 showing the amount of these “wages” and the amount of tax withheld, and any portion of the award that’s taxable must be reported, even if no Form W-2 is received.

These are just the basic rules. Other rules and limitations may apply. For example, if your child’s scholarship is taxable, it may limit other higher education tax benefits to which you or your child are entitled. As we approach the new academic year, best wishes for your child’s success in school. Contact us if you’d like to discuss these or other tax matters further.

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5 Possible Tax Aspects of a Parent Moving Into a Nursing Home

If you have a parent entering a nursing home, you may not be thinking about taxes. But there are a number of possible tax implications. Here are five.

1. Long-term medical care

The costs of qualified long-term care, including nursing home care, are deductible as medical expenses to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).

Qualified long-term care services are necessary diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic, curing, treating, mitigating and rehabilitative services, and maintenance or personal-care services required by a chronically ill individual that is provided under care administered by a licensed healthcare practitioner.

To qualify as chronically ill, a physician or other licensed healthcare practitioner must certify an individual as unable to perform at least two activities of daily living (eating, toileting, transferring, bathing, dressing, and continence) for at least 90 days due to a loss of functional capacity or severe cognitive impairment.

2. Long-term care insurance

Premiums paid for a qualified long-term care insurance contract are deductible as medical expenses (subject to limitations explained below) to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed the percentage-of-AGI threshold. A qualified long-term care insurance contract covers only qualified long-term care services, doesn’t pay costs covered by Medicare, is guaranteed renewable and doesn’t have a cash surrender value.

Qualified long-term care premiums are includible as medical expenses up to certain amounts. For individuals over 60 but not over 70 years old, the 2021 limit on deductible long-term care insurance premiums is $4,520, and for those over 70, the 2021 limit is $5,640.

3. Nursing home payments

Amounts paid to a nursing home are deductible as a medical expense if a person is staying at the facility principally for medical, rather than custodial care. If a person isn’t in the nursing home principally to receive medical care, only the portion of the fee that’s allocable to actual medical care qualifies as a deductible expense. But if the individual is chronically ill, all qualified long-term care services, including maintenance or personal care services, are deductible.

If your parent qualifies as your dependent, you can include any medical expenses you incur for your parent along with your own when determining your medical deduction.

4. Head-of-household filing status 

If you aren’t married and you meet certain dependency tests for your parent, you may qualify for head-of-household filing status, which has a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates than single filing status. You may be eligible to file as head of household even if the parent for whom you claim an exemption doesn’t live with you.

5. The sale of your parent’s home. 

If your parent sells his or her home, up to $250,000 of the gain from the sale may be tax-free. In order to qualify for the $250,000 exclusion, the seller must generally have owned the home for at least two years out of the five years before the sale, and used the home as a principal residence for at least two years out of the five years before the sale. However, there’s an exception to the two-out-of-five-year use test if the seller becomes physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself during the five-year period.

These are only some of the tax issues you may deal with when your parent moves into a nursing home. Contact us if you need more information or assistance.

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The Deductibility of Corporate Expenses Covered by Officers or Shareholders

Do you play a major role in a closely held corporation and sometimes spend money on corporate expenses personally? These costs may wind up being nondeductible both by an officer and the corporation unless proper steps are taken. This issue is more likely to arise in connection with a financially troubled corporation.

Deductible vs. nondeductible expenses

In general, you can’t deduct an expense you incur on behalf of your corporation, even if it’s a legitimate “trade or business” expense and even if the corporation is financially troubled. This is because a taxpayer can only deduct expenses that are his own. And since your corporation’s legal existence as a separate entity must be respected, the corporation’s costs aren’t yours and thus can’t be deducted even if you pay them.

What’s more, the corporation won’t generally be able to deduct them either because it didn’t pay them itself. Accordingly, be advised that it shouldn’t be a practice of your corporation’s officers or major shareholders to cover corporate costs.

When expenses may be deductible

On the other hand, if a corporate executive incurs costs that relate to an essential part of his or her duties as an executive, they may be deductible as ordinary and necessary expenses related to his or her “trade or business” of being an executive. If you wish to set up an arrangement providing for payments to you and safeguarding their deductibility, a provision should be included in your employment contract with the corporation stating the types of expenses which are part of your duties and authorizing you to incur them. For example, you may be authorized to attend out-of-town business conferences on the corporation’s behalf at your personal expense.

Alternatively, to avoid the complete loss of any deductions by both yourself and the corporation, an arrangement should be in place under which the corporation reimburses you for the expenses you incur. Turn the receipts over to the corporation and use an expense reimbursement claim form or system. This will at least allow the corporation to deduct the amount of the reimbursement.

Contact us if you’d like assistance or would like to discuss these issues further.

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There’s Currently a “Stepped-Up Basis” If You Inherit Property – But Will It Last?

If you’re planning your estate, or you’ve recently inherited assets, you may be unsure of the “cost” (or “basis”) for tax purposes.

The current rules

Under the current fair market value basis rules (also known as the “step-up and step-down” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property equal to its date-of-death value. So, for example, if your grandmother bought stock in 1935 for $500 and it’s worth $1 million at her death, the basis is stepped up to $1 million in the hands of your grandmother’s heirs — and all of that gain escapes federal income tax.

The fair market value basis rules apply to inherited property that’s includible in the deceased’s gross estate, and those rules also apply to property inherited from foreign persons who aren’t subject to U.S. estate tax. It doesn’t matter if a federal estate tax return is filed. The rules apply to the inherited portion of property owned by the inheriting taxpayer jointly with the deceased, but not the portion of jointly held property that the inheriting taxpayer owned before his or her inheritance. The fair market value basis rules also don’t apply to reinvestments of estate assets by fiduciaries.

Gifting before death

It’s crucial to understand the current fair market value basis rules so that you don’t pay more tax than you’re legally required to.

For example, in the above example, if your grandmother decides to make a gift of the stock during her lifetime (rather than passing it on when she dies), the “step-up” in basis (from $500 to $1 million) would be lost. Property that has gone up in value acquired by gift is subject to the “carryover” basis rules. That means the person receiving the gift takes the same basis the donor had in it ($500 in this example), plus a portion of any gift tax the donor pays on the gift.

A “step-down” occurs if someone dies owning property that has declined in value. In that case, the basis is lowered to the date-of-death value. Proper planning calls for seeking to avoid this loss of basis. Giving the property away before death won’t preserve the basis. That’s because when property that has gone down in value is the subject of a gift, the person receiving the gift must take the date of gift value as his basis (for purposes of determining his or her loss on a later sale). Therefore, a good strategy for property that has declined in value is for the owner to sell it before death so he or she can enjoy the tax benefits of the loss.

Change on the horizon?

Be aware that President Biden has proposed ending the ability to step-up the basis for gains in excess of $1 million. There would be exemptions for family-owned businesses and farms. Of course, any proposal must be approved by Congress in order to be enacted.

These are the basic rules. Other rules and limits may apply. For example, in some cases, a deceased person’s executor may be able to make an alternate valuation election. Contact us for tax assistance when estate planning or after receiving an inheritance. We’ll keep you up to date on any tax law changes.

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Can Taxpayers Who Manage Their Own Investment Portfolios Deduct Related Expenses? It Depends.

Do you have significant investment-related expenses, including the cost of subscriptions to financial services, home office expenses and clerical costs? Under current tax law, these expenses aren’t deductible through 2025 if they’re considered investment expenses for the production of income. But they’re deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses.

For years before 2018, production-of-income expenses were deductible, but they were included in miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were subject to a 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor. (These rules are scheduled to return after 2025.) If you do a significant amount of trading, you should know which category your investment expenses fall into, because qualifying for trade or business expense treatment is more advantageous now.

In order to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses, you must be engaged in a trade or business. The U.S. Supreme Court held many years ago that an individual taxpayer isn’t engaged in a trade or business merely because the individual manages his or her own securities investments — regardless of the amount or the extent of the work required.

A trader vs. an investor

However, if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business, you may be considered a trader, who is engaged in a trade or business, rather than an investor, who isn’t. As a trader, you’re entitled to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses. A trader is also entitled to deduct home office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. An investor, on the other hand, isn’t entitled to home office deductions since the investment activities aren’t a trade or business.

Since the Supreme Court decision, there has been extensive litigation on the issue of whether a taxpayer is a trader or investor. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a two-part test that must be satisfied in order for a taxpayer to be a trader. Under this test, a taxpayer’s investment activities are considered a trade or business only where both of the following are true:

  1. The taxpayer’s trading is substantial (in other words, sporadic trading isn’t considered a trade or business), and
  2. The taxpayer seeks to profit from short-term market swings, rather than from long-term holding of investments.

Profit in the short term

So, the fact that a taxpayer’s investment activities are regular, extensive and continuous isn’t in itself sufficient for determining that a taxpayer is a trader. In order to be considered a trader, you must show that you buy and sell securities with reasonable frequency in an effort to profit on a short-term basis. In one case, a taxpayer who made more 1,000 trades a year with trading activities averaging about $16 million annually was held to be an investor rather than a trader because the holding periods for stocks sold averaged about one year.

Contact us if you have questions or would like to figure out whether you’re an investor or a trader for tax purposes.

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Eligible Businesses: Claim the Employee Retention Tax Credit

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) is a valuable tax break that was extended and modified by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted in March of 2021. Here’s a rundown of the rules.

Background

Back in March of 2020, Congress originally enacted the ERTC in the CARES Act to encourage employers to hire and retain employees during the pandemic. At that time, the ERTC applied to wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. However, Congress later modified and extended the ERTC to apply to wages paid before July 1, 2021.

The ARPA again extended and modified the ERTC to apply to wages paid after June 30, 2021, and before January 1, 2022. Thus, an eligible employer can claim the refundable ERTC against “applicable employment taxes” equal to 70% of the qualified wages it pays to employees in the third and fourth quarters of 2021. Except as discussed below, qualified wages are generally limited to $10,000 per employee per 2021 calendar quarter. Thus, the maximum ERTC amount available is generally $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter or $28,000 per employee in 2021.

For purposes of the ERTC, a qualified employer is eligible if it experiences a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of business due to a government order. Employers with up to 500 full-time employees can claim the credit without regard to whether the employees for whom the credit is claimed actually perform services. But, except as explained below, employers with more than 500 full-time employees can only claim the ERTC with respect to employees that don’t perform services.

Employers who got a Payroll Protection Program loan in 2020 can still claim the ERTC. But the same wages can’t be used both for seeking loan forgiveness or satisfying conditions of other COVID relief programs (such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program) in calculating the ERTC.

Modifications

Beginning in the third quarter of 2021, the following modifications apply to the ERTC:

  • Applicable employment taxes are the Medicare hospital taxes (1.45% of the wages) and the Railroad Retirement payroll tax that’s attributable to the Medicare hospital tax rate. For the first and second quarters of 2021, “applicable employment taxes” were defined as the employer’s share of Social Security or FICA tax (6.2% of the wages) and the Railroad Retirement Tax Act payroll tax that was attributable to the Social Security tax rate.
  • Recovery startup businesses are qualified employers. These are generally defined as businesses that began operating after February 15, 2020, and that meet certain gross receipts requirements. These recovery startup businesses will be eligible for an increased maximum credit of $50,000 per quarter, even if they haven’t experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or been subject to a full or partial suspension under a government order.
  • A “severely financially distressed” employer that has suffered a decline in quarterly gross receipts of 90% or more compared to the same quarter in 2019 can treat wages (up to $10,000) paid during those quarters as qualified wages. This allows an employer with over 500 employees under severe financial distress to treat those wages as qualified wages whether or not employees actually provide services.
  • The statute of limitations for assessments relating to the ERTC won’t expire until five years after the date the original return claiming the credit is filed (or treated as filed).

Contact us if you have any questions related to your business claiming the ERTC.

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Seniors May Be Able to Write Off Medicare Premiums On Their Tax Returns

Are you age 65 and older and have basic Medicare insurance? You may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage you want. The premiums can be expensive, especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. But there may be a bright side: You may qualify for a tax break for paying the premiums.

Medicare premiums are medical expenses

You can combine premiums for Medicare health insurance with other qualifying medical expenses for purposes of claiming an itemized deduction for medical expenses on your tax return. This includes amounts for “Medigap” insurance and Medicare Advantage plans. Some people buy Medigap policies because Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover all their health care expenses. Coverage gaps include co-payments, coinsurance, deductibles and other costs. Medigap is private supplemental insurance that’s intended to cover some or all gaps.

Itemizing versus the standard deduction

Qualifying for a medical expense deduction is hard for many people for a couple of reasons. For 2021, you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 7.5% of AGI.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction amounts for 2018 through 2025. As a result, fewer individuals are claiming itemized deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction amounts are $12,550 for single filers, $25,100 for married couples filing jointly and $18,800 for heads of household. (For 2020, these amounts were $12,400, $24,800 and $18,650, respectively.)

However, if you have significant medical expenses, including Medicare health insurance premiums, you may itemize and collect some tax savings.

Note: Self-employed people and shareholder-employees of S corporations can generally claim an above-the-line deduction for their health insurance premiums, including Medicare premiums. So, they don’t need to itemize to get the tax savings from their premiums.

Medical expense deduction basics

In addition to Medicare premiums, you can deduct various medical expenses, including those for dental treatment, ambulance services, dentures, eyeglasses and contacts, hospital services, lab tests, qualified long-term care services, prescription medicines and others.

There are also many items that Medicare doesn’t cover that can be deducted for tax purposes, if you qualify. In addition, you can deduct transportation expenses to get to medical appointments. If you go by car, you can deduct a flat 16-cents-per-mile rate for 2021 (down from 17 cents for 2020), or you can keep track of your actual out-of-pocket expenses for gas, oil and repairs.

Claim all eligible deductions

Contact us if you have additional questions about claiming medical expense deductions on your tax return.

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Tax-Favored Ways To Build Up A College Fund

If you’re a parent with a college-bound child, you may be concerned about being able to fund future tuition and other higher education costs. You want to take maximum advantage of tax benefits to minimize your expenses. Here are some possible options.

Savings bonds

Series EE U.S. savings bonds offer two tax-saving opportunities for eligible families when used to finance college:

  • You don’t have to report the interest on the bonds for federal tax purposes until the bonds are cashed in, and
  • Interest on “qualified” Series EE (and Series I) bonds may be exempt from federal tax if the bond proceeds are used for qualified education expenses.

To qualify for the tax exemption for college use, you must purchase the bonds in your name (not the child’s) or jointly with your spouse. The proceeds must be used for tuition, fees and certain other expenses — not room and board. If only part of the proceeds is used for qualified expenses, only that part of the interest is exempt.

The exemption is phased out if your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain amounts.

529 plans

A qualified tuition program (also known as a 529 plan) allows you to buy tuition credits for a child or make contributions to an account set up to meet a child’s future higher education expenses. Qualified tuition programs are established by state governments or private education institutions.

Contributions aren’t deductible. The contributions are treated as taxable gifts to the child, but they’re eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 for 2021). A donor who contributes more than the annual exclusion limit for the year can elect to treat the gift as if it were spread out over a five-year period.

The earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free until college costs are paid from the funds. Distributions from 529 plans are tax-free to the extent the funds are used to pay “qualified higher education expenses.” Distributions of earnings that aren’t used for qualified expenses will be subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty tax.

Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs)

You can establish a Coverdell ESA and make contributions of up to $2,000 annually for each child under age 18.

The right to make contributions begins to phase out once your AGI is over a certain amount. If the income limitation is a problem, a child can contribute to his or her own account.

Although the contributions aren’t deductible, income in the account isn’t taxed, and distributions are tax-free if used on qualified education expenses. If the child doesn’t attend college, the money must be withdrawn when he or she turns 30, and any earnings will be subject to tax and penalty. But unused funds can be transferred tax-free to a Coverdell ESA of another member of the child’s family who hasn’t reached age 30. (Some ESA requirements don’t apply to individuals with special needs.)

Plan ahead

These are just some of the tax-favored ways to build up a college fund for your children. Once your child is in college, you may qualify for tax breaks such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. Contact us if you’d like to discuss any of the options.

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Retiring Soon? 4 Tax Issues You May Face

If you’re getting ready to retire, you’ll soon experience changes in your lifestyle and income sources that may have numerous tax implications.

Here’s a brief rundown of four tax and financial issues you may deal with when you retire:

Taking required minimum distributions. This is the minimum amount you must withdraw from your retirement accounts. You generally must start taking withdrawals from your IRA, SEP, SIMPLE and other retirement plan accounts when you reach age 72 (70½ before January 1, 2020). Roth IRAs don’t require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.

You can withdraw more than the minimum required amount. Your withdrawals will be included in your taxable income except for any part that was taxed before or that can be received tax-free (such as qualified distributions from Roth accounts).

Selling your principal residence. Many retirees want to downsize to smaller homes. If you’re one of them and you have a gain from the sale of your principal residence, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of that gain from your income. If you file a joint return, you may be able to exclude up to $500,000.

To claim the exclusion, you must meet certain requirements. During a five-year period ending on the date of the sale, you must have owned the home and lived in it as your main home for at least two years.

If you’re thinking of selling your home, make sure you’ve identified all items that should be included in its basis, which can save you tax.

Engaging in new work activities. After retirement, many people continue to work as consultants or start new businesses. Here are some tax-related questions to ask:

  • Should the business be a sole proprietorship, S corporation, C corporation, partnership or limited liability company?
  • Are you familiar with how to elect to amortize start-up expenditures and make payroll tax deposits?
  • What expenses can you deduct and can you claim home office deductions?
  • How should you finance the business?

Taking Social Security benefits. If you continue to work, it may have an impact on your Social Security benefits. If you retire before reaching full Social Security retirement age (65 years of age for people born before 1938, rising to 67 years of age for people born after 1959) and the sum of your wages plus self-employment income is over the Social Security annual exempt amount ($18,960 for 2021), you must give back $1 of Social Security benefits for each $2 of excess earnings.

If you reach full retirement age this year, your benefits will be reduced $1 for every $3 you earn over a different annual limit ($50,520 in 2021) until the month you reach full retirement age. Then, your earnings will no longer affect the amount of your monthly benefits, no matter how much you earn.

Speaking of Social Security, you may have to pay federal (and possibly state) tax on your benefits. Depending on how much income you have from other sources, you may have to report up to 85% of your benefits as income on your tax return and pay the resulting federal income tax.

Many decisions

As you can see, tax planning is still important after you retire. We can help maximize the tax breaks you’re entitled to so you can keep more of your hard-earned money.

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